A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for May 2013

[LINK] “Astronomical gas cloud could finally reveal the truth about black holes at the centre of the galaxy”

This National Post article about the use of a cloud of gas to chart the black holes in the centre of the Milky Way Galaxy is cool.

Scientists have long suspected there are thousands of black holes at the centre of our home galaxy, the Milky Way, but have never been able to prove it. Now, thanks to a giant gas cloud, they may get the chance to find out.

“We know that there is a very massive black hole in the centre of the galaxy, many millions of times heavier than our Sun, and we also suspect that there are thousands and thousands much smaller — a few times the mass of the Sun,” Imre Bartos, a researcher at Columbia University and one of the key minds behind the project told the BBC.

Luckily, a giant gas cloud is going to give the scientists a way to find out. The G2 cloud is bigger than our entire solar system and is being sucked toward the supermassive black hole. Three times bigger than the orbit of Pluto around the sun, the G2 cloud was first spotted in 2011.

[. . .]

As the G2 moves toward the galactic centre, it will pass by the locations of the smaller theoretical black holes. At that point, if the black holes are actually there, the G2 cloud will spin off heat and gas which should be observable from Earth.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 31, 2013 at 7:29 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Wynne stands by comments she’s ‘worried’ about Mayor Ford situation”

Global News’ Erika Tucker offers commentary on Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s comments that she was concerned about the ongoing affairs at Toronto City Hall and was ready to intervene. One problem, as Tucker notes, is that there isn’t really much that can be done. Even if the crack video turns up, it couldn’t be proven that it was crack cocaine being smoked?

When asked what an appropriate time to take action would be, Wynne said that, “there are measures that can be taken at city council in order to keep the business of the city running.

“I don’t know what the outcome of the allegations and all of the current actions is going to be, but I will take action if and when it is appropriate having followed due process.”

[. . .]

Wynne called the municipal level of government “a mature level of government” but one that is “the creature of the province at some high level.” She said there is an option of legislation changes, but didn’t commit to immediate action.

“The provincial legislature could amend the City of Toronto Act and the Municipal Elections Act but I do not see either of those things as a real possibility,” wrote John Mascarin, a partner with Aird & Berlis LLP, in an email to Global News. And Wynne’s comments suggest she has no plans to do so at this time.

“If at some later date we need to change those rules, then we have that conversation, but right now we are paying close attention to whether the business of the city is being done and everyone is following the procedures that are in place,” Wynne said.

Short of amending the statutes, there is actually little the province can do to remove an elected mayor, wrote Mascarin. An elected official can lose their seat if there’s a contravention of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act or if they commit a corrupt practice under the Municipal Elections Act, he added.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 31, 2013 at 7:26 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “G20 officer found not guilty on assault charges”

I don’t think that anyone will be surprised by the news that a policeman charged with beating someone at the G20 protests three years ago was just acquitted (the news was carried by the CBC, among others). It might be noteworthy that apparently police on the scene were unable to identify which of their fellows, even when presented with video evidence of the aftermath of the assault.

An Ontario Superior Court judge has acquitted Toronto police Const. Glenn Weddell on all assault charges arising from the G20 protests nearly three years ago.

Weddell was charged after Dorian Barton’s shoulder was broken on June 26, 2010. Barton alleged that a police officer hit him with a riot shield, knocking him to the ground.

Weddell, the first Toronto officer to go on trial for charges stemming from the protests, pleaded not guilty to assault causing bodily harm and assault with a weapon.

[. . .]

Weddell testified that he doesn’t remember seeing anyone assault Barton, but noted that in the video it looks like another officer kicks Barton at one point while he’s on the ground.

“It was more like, ‘Get up, get out of here,”‘ Weddell testified. “That could be construed as assault, definitely, but it was more like a motivational thing … I see that in the video.”

Written by Randy McDonald

May 31, 2013 at 7:14 pm

Posted in Toronto, Urban Note

Tagged with , , , ,

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • Bag News Notes profiles a now-vanished New York Times photo essay, one detailing children residing as restaveks with Haitian families who are–or are not?–servants.
  • Centauri Dreams considers how the New Horizons probe might detect subsurface oceans on Pluto.
  • Daniel Drezner thinks that applying bad analogies to contemporary international relationships can unduly prejudice the contemporary world, and wonders if the impending construction of the world’s tallest building in China signals the end of the Chinese boom.
  • Eastern Approaches notes the continued political strike in Poland over in-vitro fertilization.
  • Geocurrents’ Asya Pereltsvaig profiles the deportation of Soviet Koreans from their Pacific homeland to Central Asia in the late 1930s, and notes echoes of this deportation in the music of Soviet Korean singer-songwriters.
  • GNXP’s Razib Khan profiles the cat family tree.
  • Language Hat links to a blog post demonstrating how Hittite was recognized as an Indo-European language.
  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Robert Farley recommends against Canada’s purchase of F-35 fighters as unhelpful for Canada’s likely missions in the Arctic.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer wonders if secure property rights really are as essential to economic growth as some have suggested.

[PHOTO] Looking north, Dupont and Christie

Looking north, Dupont and Christie

Written by Randy McDonald

May 31, 2013 at 1:16 pm

[LINK] Is Beirut’s Reputation for LGBT Tolerance a Myth?

Is Beirut’s Reputation for LGBT Tolerance a Myth?Feargus O’Sullivan article at The Atlantic Cities suggests that tolerance of GLBT populations in Beirut is real, but that it’s important not to confuse toleration with acceptance.

Since the Civil War ended in 1990, Lebanon’s various governments have been keen to present a Western face. This yen has a long history in Lebanon, where much education beyond primary level takes places in French and English. It taps into a tendency among some Christian Lebanese to identify themselves not as Arabs but as descendants of the ancient Phoenicians, a self-identification only strengthened during interwar French rule. In more recent years, this Western orientation has exhibited itself through cautious social tolerance mixed with neo-liberal economic policies, a shift that can be seen clearly on the streets of Beirut.

Beirut’s high-end consumer culture and party scene have consequently boomed, attracting tourists from elsewhere in the Middle East who are keen to wear fewer clothes and drink alcohol more freely, as well as Europeans discovering cafes, bars and beach clubs that wouldn’t be out of place in Barcelona or Mykonos. This liberal attitude has had some interesting side effects – it has helped, for example, the spread of reality TV made in Beirut throughout the Arab world, as Big Brother-style shows that mix genders are easier to produce there without raising social hackles. Accompanying this post-war reboot have been many problems residents of Western cities will also recognize. Beirut’s city center has seen a contested land grab by government-linked companies, the displacement of poorer Beirutis from the area and an ongoing speculative building boom that has seen old structures bulldozed to make way for luxury high-rises.

This anything-goes approach has appealed to some Lebanese governments’ Western allies. It has also helped to promote Beirut’s hedonistic reputation within the Middle East (the city and its environs are also a regional center for the sex industry), a reputation that has proved lucrative. Coupled with brave campaigning activities from LGBT activists, it has given some currency to the idea that permitting activities traditionally considered unsalubrious can have its advantages as long as they remain reasonably covert (and, allegedly, as long as those involved pay off the right people).

Lebanon’s complex inter-community politics have also helped. With a population divided into many religious and ethnic groups, there is a long history of leaving people to police themselves providing they don’t step beyond the confines of their group. Managing the divisions within Lebanese society takes so much energy and focus that politicians are usually too busy to sweat the presence of a few low-key gay bars.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 31, 2013 at 3:39 am

[LINK] “Are Kaesong curtains drawn for good?”

Aidan Foster-Carter‘s Asia Times article makes the point that the extreme rhetoric used by the North Korean government against the South has the effect of shutting down possibilities for inter-Korean concord and cooperation. What incentive does the South have to cooperate with such a North? And how would the North, absent involvement with the South, avoid envelopment by China?

Fortunately, North Korea as yet lacks any such capacity, so this all had a staged and cartoonish character. That did not make it any less unsettling. Though little remarked, there may be a parallel here with last spring’s vicious and highly personalized propaganda campaign against South Korea’s then President Lee Myung-bak, including vile cartoons of him as a rat being bloodily done to death in a variety of ways. We covered this here in detail at the time.

These cartoons can no longer be found on KCNA, but Jeffrey Lewis has usefully preserved some for posterity. One comment there is worth quoting for its wider resonance: “How do you negotiate with a government that presents propaganda posters showing your president’s gory dismemberment?”

This year’s campaign lacked the cartoons’ visual nastiness and personal animus, but was no less extreme in its language. Quoting this in extenso would be tedious. Any reader – except in South Korea; will President Park end this needless ban? – has only to turn to KCNA.kp, which helpfully files its main diatribes under the telling sidebar “DPRK in All-Out Action Against Enemies,” and scroll back over the past two months. Of late they have toned this down, but only slightly.

As recently as May 10, party daily Rodong Sinmun could still write: “The DPRK remains steadfast in its attitude to meet any challenge of the hostile forces for aggression through an all-out action based on nuclear deterrent of justice, bring earlier the day of the final victory in the great war for national reunification (emphasis added) and guarantee the prosperity of a reunified country and the independent dignity of the nation for all ages.”

Leaving aside the bizarre idea of nuclear “all-out action” as a way to “guarantee prosperity” – guarantee poverty, more like – taken literally what can this mean except that North Korea would welcome a “unification” achieved by the nuclear defeat (as if!) of South Korea, with all the catastrophic material and human loss of innocent lives that would entail? Or if they don’t really mean it, why do they say it? To adapt the question above, how can you talk usefully to a regime which purports to gleefully contemplate nuking you into submission?

Written by Randy McDonald

May 31, 2013 at 3:19 am

[LINK] Two links on the position of the Serbian Orthodox Church

The first article is Sara Milosevic’s Global Post article “Why Pope Francis isn’t welcome in Serbia”, which connects the lack of a papal visit to Serbia to continuing Serbian resentment over the massacres committed by Catholic Croats of Serbs during the Second World War, and what Serbia and its national church see as a lack of specific repentance.

Balkan history considers Roman Catholic clergy responsible for the death of 700,000 Serbs, Jews and Roma killed in the concentration camp Jasenovac, given the church’s close relationship with the Nazi-affiliated Independent State of Croatia, as well as the forcible conversions of 240,000 Serbian Orthodox to Roman Catholicism.

”An apology would be a gesture that instills hope that something like that will never happen again,” said Patriarch Irinej, the current leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

On the Catholic side, Monsignor Stanislav Hocevar, the archbishop of Belgrade, cannot understand why Serbia insists on a special papal apology, citing John Paul II’s apology in 2000 “ for the sins of Catholics throughout the ages for violating the rights of ethnic groups and peoples.”

During his visit to Bosnia and Croatia in 2003, the pope also apologized for the crimes of Catholic Croats. He held a Mass at the Petrićevac Monastery in Banja Luka, a place where the Croatian Ustase massacred over 2,500 Serbs in February 1941.

However, Serbian Orthodox Metropolitan Jovan of Zagreb strictly demanded that the Pope Francis pay a tribute to the victims of Jasenovac before he visit Serbia, like Pope Benedict did during his visit to Poland where he paid a tribute to Jewish victims.

The second, Vesa Peric Zimonjic’s Inter Press Service article “At Political Rally, Serbian Church Crosses Sensitive Line” recounts how the Serbian Orthodox Church, which became enormously strong after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, is coming into conflict over its sustained nationalism.

The influential Serbian Orthodox Church publicly crossed a line recently when two of its top clergymen took part in a Belgrade rally with messages amounting to direct threats against the lives of government officials.

The rally [. . .] was organised by opponents of Serbia’s recent and historic agreement with Kosovo that essentially ceded authority over Kosovo’s Serb population to Pristina.

“We pray for the dead souls of government and parliament, and may all their sins be forgiven,” Archbishop Amfilohije told some 3,000 ultra nationalists who gathered at the central Republic Square.

Amfilohije’s words were followed by a warning from Bishop Atanasije to current Prime Minister Ivica Dacic. “The prime minister speaks about real politics only,” the bishop said. “That is how Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic [assassinated in 2003] used to speak, and we all know how he ended.”

[. . .]

“Nothing can justify the scandalous behaviour of two bishops at the rally,” religion analyst and author Mirko Djordjevic told IPS. “Speeches by two SPC [Serbian Orthodox Church] primates are unprecedented and will certainly bear influence on future relations between the government and the church.”

“It’s high time the SPC stopped meddling into affairs of state,” commented leading Belgrade daily Blic. “The reputation of this institution has now been burnt to the ground, and its hate speech should be sanctioned.”

Written by Randy McDonald

May 31, 2013 at 2:20 am

[LINK] Two Transitions Online articles about Latvia and Russia

The first Transitions Online article on Latvia I found interesting was Martin Ehl’s “For Latvia, Another Declaration of Independence”. Membership in the Eurozone, Ehl argues, is seen by Latvians not as welcome but as necessary, in order to further remove the country from the Russian sphere of influence.

Latvians themselves are cautious. In surveys, only a third of those questioned favor entry into the euro zone. They are concerned mainly by price increases after the introduction of the euro at a time when two-thirds say they carefully plan their spending each month and must restrict purchases of consumer durables, as well as shoes and clothing. In the EU, Latvia is poorer than only Bulgaria and Romania, and unemployment – though down from the 22 percent of 2009, the worst year of the crisis – is still high at 10.9 percent.

Foreign investors and entrepreneurs have a different view. A recent survey from the German-Baltic Chamber of Commerce showed that 91 percent of the German companies operating in the Baltics support both the introduction of the euro in Latvia from 1 January 2014 and the planned entry of Lithuania into the euro zone one year later. In particular, German firms expect a reduction in their exchange rate risk, a simplification in accounting procedures, and lower transaction costs. Although Latvia fares the worst in the eyes of German investors among the three Baltic countries, the proportion of those who expect a downturn has dropped by a third over the past year.nto the euro zone, afraid that Latvia could become a second Cyprus because its banks are popular among wealthy clients from the former Soviet Union. Latvia is simply some kind of eastern Switzerland.

[. . .]

In 2005, in the run-up to joining the euro zone, the Latvians introduced a fixed exchange rate for the Latvian lat to the euro. It amounted to an internal devaluation, and that was how Dombrovskis and Rimsevics explained extensive austerity measures. Eventually, even the International Monetary Fund reproached Riga for its toughness (the IMF oversaw the Latvian reforms because the country had taken a 7 million euro rescue loan in 2008, which was paid back early last fall).

Most Latvians understood the tough measures – such as reducing salaries in the public sector by 30 percent, closing schools, and shuttering hospitals – and accepted them for one simple reason: that the ultimate goal would be geopolitical disengagement from Russia, which since Latvia’s declaration of independence in 1918 has been everything possible for Latvians, just not a friendly neighbor. The dual German-Russian occupation and World War II wiped out one-third of the population, who either fled or were killed. In contrast, the Soviet regime settled thousands of immigrants in Latvia, so that ethnic Russians now make up about one-third of the country’s population, concentrated mainly in the capital.

The second article, Nirvana Bhatia’s “In Latvia, V Is for Victory – or Vanquished”, relates to continued divisions among the Latvian population regarding the interpretation of 1945. What does 1945 mean for a Latvian who sees this as the second Soviet conquest? Or for a Russophone who sees this as part of the victory against fascism?

Though relations between the two communities are largely normalized in daily life, politicians continue to argue over the rights of ethnic Russians and the country’s other “non-citizens” – nearly 300,000 people who moved to Latvia during the Soviet era, and their descendants, but who were not eligible for Latvian citizenship after the fall of the Soviet Union. Those tensions often come to a head during this patriotic week in May, when two very different interpretations of history are on display.

The Victory Day festivities are a particularly sore spot for Latvian nationalists, who view 9 May merely as the day one occupier left and another took its place. Ethnic Russians – who account for a quarter of the country’s population – on the other hand, see it as an occasion to celebrate their heritage and collective identity. Or, as University of Latvia’s social sciences dean, Juris Rozenvalds, told the Russian-language Vesti segodnya newspaper, to show the governing authorities that “we are here, we are many, and we must be taken into account.”

Rozenvalds believes the government is weary of 9 May not because of what it represents, but because the substantial numbers (more than 150,000 people attended the events last year) seem to legitimize the Russian community’s active presence in Latvia. He said 2012’s failed referendum to elevate Russian to official language status or bids to make Orthodox Christmas a public holiday were similar appeals – and rejections – for recognition by Latvia’s largest minority.

Last week, Latvia’s National Alliance Party, a junior member of the governing coalition, urged the demolition of the Soviet Victory Monument and recommended turning the site into an amusement park. “As long as the monument stands, it will remind you of the consequences of Latvia’s occupation and encourage Russia’s military hopes for the restoration of the empire,” Aleksandrs Kirsteins, a National Alliance parliamentary candidate, told Delfi.lv. Other political leaders proposed placing an exhibit on communist crimes and Stalinist-era atrocities near the monument to serve as a reminder of what the Latvian people experienced after the Soviet liberation.

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • Daniel Drezner notes, using as an example the controversial Keystone pipeline, that interest group political movements inevitably become compromised whenever they encounter politicians not beholden to said (here, Kerry’s beliefs).
  • Eastern Approaches notes the continued rivalry between contending political factions in Georgia.
  • Language Log analyses a recent photo of Vietnamese written in Chinese script. What does the odd character order mean?
  • Marginal Revolution notes that poor soil conditions in much of Africa inhibit economic development.
  • In a guest post at the Planetary Society Blog, Bill Dunford describes, in photos and words, some of the more evocatively-named features on other worlds.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer makes the case that there is no such thing as a resource curse, just bad governance.
  • Torontoist notes that Fort York’s new visitor centre is under contstruction.
  • Understanding Society’s Daniel Little describes an interesting-sounding conference in China on rural economic development, one that features an actual visit to an up-and-coming rural cooperative.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell visits the David Bowie exhibit in London and considers Bowie as pioneering a sort of post-colonial modernity that the United Kingdom hadn’t had until that point.
  • Zero Geography’s Mark Graham maps controversial articles in different versions of Wikipedia.